Released: 4th June 2013
Concept, Directed, Shot, Edited and Effected: Richard Eames
With special thanks to: Jacqueline, Jesse, Lee, Aaron, Kirat, David and Helena
Cameras: Canon 7D with Technicolor Cinestyle profile. Canon 350D for timelapses!
Lenses: Samyang/Rokinon 35mm Cine T1.5, Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC Macro
Edit & Effects: Adobe Premiere CS5, After Effects CS5
Colour Grade: Red Giant Magic Bullet Colorista Free
Watch it burn!
A bit of a making of Burn Again
I was approached by the band The Devil Rides Out in early January 2013 to make a video for one of the 5 tracks off their forthcoming EP Ugly Creatures. Their idea was to round up a couple of Perth film makers to make a video for each of the songs with an open brief: “we don’t want to be in them and would give the film maker free reign idea wise except for giving them the lyrics and a general vibe”.
Having not made any original filimic work of my own since Blac Blocs – NVDA about 3 years ago I was pretty keen to get back into it. I was given 2 songs to choose from, both were rough mixes with no vocals so I was choosing based solely on which appealed to me musically. ‘Empty Sky’ was a cool stoner-rock track with a great frantic intro but the slow, repetitive, doomy riffing of ‘Burn Again’ sparked more evocative images for me. Also the fact I tend to listen to a lot of post-metal music similar to this helped sway my decision ie. Pelican, ISIS.
The next step was listening to the track on repeat for over an hour just scribbling images that came to mind. I still had no idea what the lyrics were, the only clue I had was the title ‘Burn Again’ so fire and flames became the starting point. My initial impulse with the song was for it to be all long edits of slow motion imagery cut in time with the guitar riffs. Buildings, planes, masses of people.
I don’t remember how the ‘hostage-core’ element evolved but ultimately I ended up with a concept analysing internet activism, crowd-sourcing, and the merits of militant direct-action. The primary questions I was exploring in the video were; how can justice be served to those who, through wealth, influence or mobility are able to circumvent the existing system of law and justice? And what modern alternatives exist that may be more or less effective? (Discuss in 10,000 words or a 4 minute video!)
I could go on about the themes and ideas in this video as there are a lot but maybe another time, for now make of it what you will.
After storyboarding most of the video I asked for the lyrics as I was concerned I might be miles off course here. Fortunately the lyrics were pretty open to interpretation, a sign of good lyrics 🙂 Although they do lean more toward drinking and the trials and tribulations of trying to meet women in bars if you took them literally. I did think of what I might be able to do with this angle but ultimately I decided I was going to bend the lyrics a bit to suit me!
One thing I like to do in the early stages is a rough edit of my storyboards. This helps me flesh out the idea, find places of dead time and give me a clear agenda when it comes to shooting. I’m not much of an advocate of shooting a whole bunch of stuff and making something out of it in post, although it is important to get coverage so you have options in the edit. I do make this rough edit quite precise, so much so the final edit matches the paper edit shot-for-shot 90% of the time.
Casting became perhaps the biggest headache. Initially the CEO character wasn’t going to have a sack over his head at all. With no budget, hiring professional actors was out of the question. I then cast 3 different friends who were all keen at first but each had to drop out for various reasons. Also given the ‘unsecured’ location I could only film on a weekday which ruled out a lot of people who were also keen to be in the video but simply couldn’t because of life commitments. Facing the prospect that this video might not even happen at all I had to compromise on my initial vision and think of a way to make the character faceless so I could get away with using anyone, even if they didn’t look the part. Hello hessian sack!
This became one of those circumstances where, when faced with a dilemma that threatens to derail a project you have to adapt and in the end the changes you were forced to make have actually made the film better! Reluctantly I had little choice but to play the CEO character myself in the opening scenes in the car. All the hostage scenes were played by a friends’ 20 year old son and the shot of him in the boot of the car was my brother. The power of body doubling!
Lets not talk about that.
I wanted to make extensive use of slow motion so my choice of camera was going to be important. Shooting on a RED or Arri Alexa was out of the question because of budget. I was willing to consider hiring the much cheaper Sony FS700 for its 120fps slow motion but coincidently I just so happened to edit a video shot entirely at 50fps on a Canon 5Dmk2 at the time. I found the slow motion derived from interpreting 50fps footage at 25fps (PAL territory here) was more than enough for what I had envisaged. The big turn off with Canon DSLR slow motion is the loss in resolution when recording 50fps which is 1280 x 720 rather than the full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 but since this was a video with NO budget hiring a DSLR was going to be by far the cheapest option. Again, since my location was ‘unsecured’ I couldn’t afford the wasted rental money if I hired a $500AUD a day RED against an $80AUD a day DSLR for a shoot that didn’t happened!
Thankfully my good friend Lee of Studio Kraze stepped up and helped me out big time by lending me his Canon 7D! This was my first time using a DSLR as a video camera, yes I’m very late to the party but my 350D had been serving me well enough that it didn’t need replacing.
There’s a lot to like about DSLR video but a lot more to hate about it. After shooting this video I’m a bit perplexed at how these cameras have maintained so much hype as a film making tool. Sure their size, portability, the shallow depth of field, and price point are all good things but I encountered all the trappings these cameras are known for and found them unbearable! The aliasing and moire were an issue in nearly every shot in the power station and because most of it was shot handheld the camera movement only seemed to exacerbate the issue.
The aliasing was so bad in this wide shot I had to redraw the power lines! Cool, but there’s better things to spend time on in post than fixing a camera’s shortcomings. It should be noted that there are filters that can be fitted to reduce this problem on some cameras for a couple of hundred dollars.
Filming fire was an interesting exercise. I’d experimented with different accelerants for a shot a few years ago so I knew that 100% mentholated spirits gives the best flames for filming. Some accelerants will burn completely clear with almost invisible flames where as mentholated spirits give you the nice big orange flames you want.
Watching clothes burn is an unsettling sight. Many modern clothes are made of synthetic and polyester materials which when set alight, quickly melt and shrink like plastic. The thought of actually wearing these whilst on fire is horrifying, they would easily melt into your flesh. After watching different fabrics burn you will almost certainly vow to wear 100% cotton clothes from now on!
Pulling a key of fire from a black background is simple enough in concept except I messed it up. First I was just going to spray paint a piece of cardboard black and use that as the backdrop but I soon realised that it was way too small. Fortunately my Dad had some big sheets of wood I could spray up. These weren’t ideal as they were quite old and had noticeable splitting between the grain in the wood. The big mistake I made though was not cutting the sunlight that hit the backdrop. This meant the backdrop wasn’t dark enough and I had to crush the blacks so much in post to get the key it pretty much ruined the fire shots. To save the shots I had to resort to matte painting to clean up the backdrops, a great waste of time in post that could have been saved if I used something to cast a shadow on the backdrop while getting the shot.
Koyaanisqatsi has long been one of my favourite films so the thought of using timelapse photography has always been in the back of my mind. Timelapses became a pretty important part of the film and were the first things I started shooting in February and last shots I was still shooting right up until June. There are 13 timelapse shots in the final video but I shot 32 in total. It’s largely a game of hit-or-miss, you do begin to tell what conditions are best but you’re still at the mercy of nature. It also takes a few experiments to settle on the time intervals that will give you the desired effect. All timelapses were shot on my 350D, a relic of a camera, full of dead pixels but the only one I own. It’s 2005 technology but its 8 mega-pixel images are good enough that any shortcomings are reduced when scaled down to HD video.
The following are the settings I settled on:
Daytime :: ISO 100; f=14/16; 1/100 shutter; 8 second intervals
Night :: ISO 800; f=wide open; 8 second shutter; 15 second intervals
Notes :: Don’t use a shutter speed faster than 1/100 second as you’ll likely get shutter flicker. This appears as sudden and distracting exposure inconsistencies between frames due to the mechanical shutter failing to accurately open for 1/100 second every time. If you want a detailed guide to timelapse photography then the info here at Light Stalking is a must read.
There were a lot of effects shots and tweaks in this video but I’ll discuss a couple of the more interesting ones.
Digital Paint Job
The car the chauffeur picks up the CEO in needed to look somewhat luxurious. I did look into hiring a premium car but at near $200 a day for the sake of 3 shots was a bit steep for a no budget video so I had to find an alternative. Fortunately my own car, a Honda Accord I picked up from a car auction for $1000 has a very Euro style back end. I figured I could to get away with using my own car but I needed to fix the colour, it had to be black.
After a bit of testing and masking in After Effects my car looked meaner than ever! For this technique to work you need to isolate the paintwork only. It involves a fair bit of masking to avoid effecting the lights, pieces of chrome, and anyone moving in front of the car so to make life easier lock the shot off on a tripod so you don’t have to animate every mask to handheld footage. Add the camera shake in post if need be.
The band where pretty happy with the license plate too!
For one of the final shots I couldn’t actually drive the car into the position I wanted so I had to cheat it. Applied the same process as above but with some background replacement.
Living Room Green Screening
I’ve done a fair bit of green screen work in the past so I’m always thinking in terms of its possible application. I enjoy making crazy animation sequences and for Burn Again I was keen to make one for the sequence in which the militant character reflects on what has led to her radicalisation. I no longer have access to proper green screen facilities so I had to make one in the only place I could. My tiny living room. I bought a $120AUD green screen kit and got down to business.
The extremely tight space meant I couldn’t light it properly, in fact the whole thing is lit from a single 800 watt Redhead being bounced off the ceiling. It meant a bit more work in post fixing up the key but hey, this is film making by any means necessary. On the positive side at least I could roll around on the floor with a sack on my head in the comfort of my own living room!
Computer Screen Graphics
The video also required a lot of cutaway shots to computer screen images to help tell the story, such as news headlines and the voting website the hostage drama is being streamed on. I found a great tutorial over at Red Giant that gave me the exact style I was looking forward. As the edits to these graphics were really fast it was important for the key elements to stand out cleanly. The graphics were created as vector art in Illustrator which allowed the ability to really zoom right in on key words or icons without losing image quality as I might have done if I filmed them from a screen.
That’s a Wrap
There’s a tonne of other things I could go on about but this blogging thing takes time and I should really be thinking about my next project, whatever that will be. Thanks for reading and watching, hope you enjoyed the show!